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Business // Entrepreneurs
Christina O’Connor

Learning Center Makes Parents Part Of Process

Last Tuesday morning, about a dozen toddlers explored a colorful room filled with a ball pit, slides and toys alongside their parents before the instructor called them over for circle time. As a group, the kids and parents sang and blew bubbles. In the next room, a group of slightly older kids wrapped up a marine-themed art project. Down the hall, 3-year-olds played together in a mini gym, taking turns on a swing, jumping on a trampoline and riding tricycles. Nearby, 4-and 5-year-olds quietly finished workbook assignments.

All of this activity is just another day at WeePlay & Learn, a parent-child interactive play group and preschool designed for children ages 2 months to 5 years old. In the last 10 years, WeePlay has worked with more than 11,000 children on everything from sensory games with infants to prepping older kids for kindergarten.

“I don’t go to work, I go to play,” says WeePlay & Learn founder and owner Mary Melzack. “I love what I do.”

It all started in 2001, when Melzack’s first child, David, came along.

“My son was the reason that motivated me to do all this early-learning research on how do you teach a baby, how do you teach a toddler,” she explains. “All of that evolved into thinking we really need a play center.”

While David napped, Melzack researched and developed interactive early-learning curricula and opened WeePlay in 2004.

Things started small. Throughout the years, Melzack slowly grew her business, largely through word of mouth. Now, it’s comprised of a labyrinth of activity rooms at Ward Warehouse.

In the play center, the youngest keiki focus on activities that teach motor and social skills, playing with puppets and musical instruments, and learning basic shapes, colors, letters and numbers as they get older.

For keiki 20-24 months, the preparatory interactive preschool offers activities that continue to teach more-advanced development and social skills, as well as introduce language and literacy concepts. The 3-year-olds at WeePlay continue to hone these skills through interactive play and study age-appropriate academics.

The 4- and 5-year-olds focus on their studies and also have time for art projects, and even get a precursor on computers.

“We roll a lot of the programs into one, so the children are exposed to all of it,” Melzack says.

For each age group, parent involvement is key.

“It takes a village to raise a child, and these parents understand that,” Melzack says. “And they like this village because they get to be part of it … We are true believers that if you have an opportunity to be part of your child’s early education, even at this age, it makes an enormous difference.”

Melzack now has four children – and the three youngest (all girls) have gone through WeePlay from the time they were infants until they graduated from the pre-school. She feels WeePlay has helped prepare them for school.

“When they leave here, they know how to write their names, they know how to do their numbers, they know their colors, so they are way ahead of the game.”

Parents and guardians who bring their kids to WeePlay echo such sentiments. Pat Chung, for example, has been coming with her 2-year-old grandson Dante for eight months.

“He has incredible verbal skills,” Chung says, “and I think that it is from being here.”

When Tara Stay moved to Hawaii from New York, she spent weeks looking for a learning center for her children, Violet (2) and Brody (4). “It has really been a chance

for the kids to meet new kids and to explore with kids their age. Violet cannot wait to come to school,” says Stay, as Violet twists around in her arms. “When you have a school experience that is so exciting for them; it changes everything because it is a good start to their education.”

WeePlay & Learn is located at Ward Warehouse on the second floor. For more information, call 396-2100 or visit weeplayandlearn.com.

coconnor@midweek.com

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